The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports that it provided dental care for 577,000 veterans during fiscal year 2019, which seems like a huge number until compared with the approximately 9 million veterans who receive services from the VA and the 19,892,000 veterans who were on the government’s roster as of September 2017.
The VA reports that it has more than 200 facilities where veterans can receive dental care if they qualify, representing only about 18% of the 1,062 outpatient sites it operates.
“You need to be fully disabled in order to receive dental care through the VA, or the disablement of your oral health has to be paramount for them to cover your oral health needs,” Ronnie Myers, dean of the Touro College of Dental Medicine at New York Medical College, told the Business Journal. With that in mind, Touro Dental Health, the clinical training facility at the school’s Valhalla campus, has been opening wide its newly expanded clinic to veterans not receiving oral health care from the VA.
Throughout the year, Touro provides 25% off the fees for most dental treatment for veterans, active military personnel and their spouses. Fees at Touro are considerably less than found at typical private practices in Westchester. On Nov. 4, Touro held a Smiles for Veterans event, providing free dental screenings, X-rays, cleanings and fillings. This was the second year it held the event.
“We were very fortunate to partner on this program with the 9th District Dental Association,” Myers said. “The American Dental Association, the parent organization, is broken up into state constituents. In New York, there are nine districts. We happen to be in the 9th District, which encompasses most of the counties in the lower Hudson Valley.”
Last year, Touro’s students and faculty were able to care for approximately 45 veterans during the event. This year, the number was more than 60. If care could not be completed on the event day, appointments were made for other days with the service still being free.
Myers said the college’s students recognize the service that veterans have provided to the country.
“Our mission is to provide excellent oral health care services to the diverse communities with integrity, compassion and empathy. I believe the veterans served our country with that same sort of thing: integrity, compassion and empathy,” Myers said.
Myers explained that an important aspect of the education students receive at Touro is developing an understanding of the importance of giving back to the community once they are in professional practice.
“A requirement of our students is to actually provide a minimum of 40 hours of community service while they’re here and, in fact, most students do well above that,” Myers said.
The event took place a few days after New York state Assemblyman David DiPietro, a Republican from East Aurora, proposed legislation that would create a $5 million fund to provide dental insurance for veterans. State Sen. Robert Ortt of Lockport introduced similar legislation on the senate side.
Myers said there is a group of academic dental centers in the state that works to support legislation that benefits various populations they serve. He also noted that attending the event were Dr. G. Kirk Gleason, president of the board of trustees of the New York State Dental Foundation, and board member Dr. Mark Bauman.
“The Dental Foundation supports initiatives like this for needy populations and it is really a benefit to us that they supported it with a small grant as well as support with supplies to help offset the cost of the day,” Myers said.
Myers, who is a doctor of dental surgery (DDS), is a former member and chair of the New York State Board of Dentistry and a past chair of the American Dental Education Association Section on Clinic Administration. He was appointed dean at Touro in 2017 after serving as senior associate dean for academic and administrative affairs.
Veterans are not the only patient category receiving attention from Touro Dental Health. This February it plans to hold the third annual Give Kids a Smile Day where free dental care is offered to youngsters as old as 17. On Nov. 8, it hosted the New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities Task Force on Special Dentistry for a session on overcoming obstacles to oral health for individuals with disabilities. Experts in the field reviewed research and shared experiences in improving oral hygiene and home care to promote better oral health.